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Oxbridge music HELP!?!?

So I would like to study music at uni and I am stuck between Oxford and Cambridge. Are there any personal experiences advice you can give? (anything appreciated). I'll enjoy quite a broad course, interested in both the academic side as well as performance and composition.
Also, I 've just found out that you have to live on campus for oxbridge, is either more lenient on where you live (would like to live at home, I live close to both) but of course sacrifices have to be made.
Additional info (in case helpful) -I'm predicted 3 A*s, and A* in EPQ so grades shouldn't be a problem. I've got several diplomas in piano performance and have taken part in various composition workshops and summer schools and go to a saturday music school.
I prefer older colleges as opposed to modern looking ones and of course with music, different colleges can be quite differing.
Looking forward to your reponses! Thanks in advance!

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Ooooh hello :biggrin:

I'm a music alumna from Oxford (Worcester College, 2007-2010). I think the first thing to do is to note that at both unis, you will have to live in college at least for the first year, and there are residency rules as to how 'far out' from the city centre you can live in second and third years (at least for Oxford, less certain about Cambridge).

The two unis have rather different course structures and, to a lesser extent, course content. At Cambridge, you'll have exams that count towards your degree every year for three years. At Oxford, you have to pass first year to get into second, then there are no exams in second year, and your entire degree classification is based on your third year exams and portfolio submissions. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, so you need to think about what you'd prefer and what exam system would suit your strengths better.

Oxford are in the process of rejigging their course a bit (not sure if Cambridge are changing/have changed their course recently) but generally speaking there's more emphasis on harmony and counterpoint at Cambridge. There are also more entrance tests at Cambridge than at Oxford, and these vary between the different Cambridge colleges as to what they ask of you in terms of at-interview tests.

@OxMus is a current Oxford muso and can answer more questions than I can, but above are some initial things to think about. Do you intend to pursue composition as an examined component of your uni course? If so, it may be an advantage to apply to a college with a composer as the DoS/college tutor :yes:
Reply 2
Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd
Ooooh hello :biggrin:

I'm a music alumna from Oxford (Worcester College, 2007-2010). I think the first thing to do is to note that at both unis, you will have to live in college at least for the first year, and there are residency rules as to how 'far out' from the city centre you can live in second and third years (at least for Oxford, less certain about Cambridge).

The two unis have rather different course structures and, to a lesser extent, course content. At Cambridge, you'll have exams that count towards your degree every year for three years. At Oxford, you have to pass first year to get into second, then there are no exams in second year, and your entire degree classification is based on your third year exams and portfolio submissions. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, so you need to think about what you'd prefer and what exam system would suit your strengths better.

Oxford are in the process of rejigging their course a bit (not sure if Cambridge are changing/have changed their course recently) but generally speaking there's more emphasis on harmony and counterpoint at Cambridge. There are also more entrance tests at Cambridge than at Oxford, and these vary between the different Cambridge colleges as to what they ask of you in terms of at-interview tests.

@OxMus is a current Oxford muso and can answer more questions than I can, but above are some initial things to think about. Do you intend to pursue composition as an examined component of your uni course? If so, it may be an advantage to apply to a college with a composer as the DoS/college tutor :yes:

Hi, this was so helpful, particularly the but about choosing a college with a composition tutor- I guess I'll be doing some research! Do you know what sort of skills are tested in the entrance exams, and would you say doing more harmony and counterpoint work will help (if applying to Cambridge).

Thank you!
Original post by lukas078
Hi, this was so helpful, particularly the but about choosing a college with a composition tutor- I guess I'll be doing some research! Do you know what sort of skills are tested in the entrance exams, and would you say doing more harmony and counterpoint work will help (if applying to Cambridge).

Thank you!

For Oxford, there's a miniscule performance test (6 mins - or at least that's what it used to be) and the interview(s). Worcester College used to do its own wacky harmony tests (four-part harmonisation of a Bach chorale at a piano, improvisation on a given ground bass, improvisation on a hexachord scale, and something else I never remember) but the tutor who did those is leaving before you'll have your interview, so hopefully you won't have to do those!

I don't know too much about the Cambridge tests but my understanding is that the non-interview section does revolve around harmony and counterpoint, e.g. they play a four-part Bach chorale at a keyboard/piano, and all the candidates have to try and transcribe it onto manuscript paper :eek2:

For either uni, a good understanding of harmony and counterpoint would be beneficial. The outgoing tutor at Worcester College would recommend buying this https://www.amazon.co.uk/Harmonized-Chorales-Johann-Sebastian-Bach/dp/0793525748 and playing/harmonising one a day, both as preparation for interview and preparation for the Keyboard Skills course in first year :yes:
Reply 4
Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd
For Oxford, there's a miniscule performance test (6 mins - or at least that's what it used to be) and the interview(s). Worcester College used to do its own wacky harmony tests (four-part harmonisation of a Bach chorale at a piano, improvisation on a given ground bass, improvisation on a hexachord scale, and something else I never remember) but the tutor who did those is leaving before you'll have your interview, so hopefully you won't have to do those!

I don't know too much about the Cambridge tests but my understanding is that the non-interview section does revolve around harmony and counterpoint, e.g. they play a four-part Bach chorale at a keyboard/piano, and all the candidates have to try and transcribe it onto manuscript paper :eek2:

For either uni, a good understanding of harmony and counterpoint would be beneficial. The outgoing tutor at Worcester College would recommend buying this https://www.amazon.co.uk/Harmonized-Chorales-Johann-Sebastian-Bach/dp/0793525748 and playing/harmonising one a day, both as preparation for interview and preparation for the Keyboard Skills course in first year :yes:

Oh wow transcribing a bach chorale seems extremely difficult!
Thanks for the advice :smile: (might have some more questions after I do more research on these tests!)
Original post by lukas078
Oh wow transcribing a bach chorale seems extremely difficult!
Thanks for the advice :smile: (might have some more questions after I do more research on these tests!)

Exactly. One of the main reasons I chose Oxford over Cambridge ahahaha :headfire: Am crap at harmony and counterpoint - I imagine if you're a composer, you're probably more skilled at it and it'll be less of an issue :smile:

Sure of course, feel free to post more questions in this thread, or you can PM me if you'd prefer :smile:
Reply 6
Original post by lukas078
So I would like to study music at uni and I am stuck between Oxford and Cambridge. Are there any personal experiences advice you can give? (anything appreciated). I'll enjoy quite a broad course, interested in both the academic side as well as performance and composition.
Also, I 've just found out that you have to live on campus for oxbridge, is either more lenient on where you live (would like to live at home, I live close to both) but of course sacrifices have to be made.
Additional info (in case helpful) -I'm predicted 3 A*s, and A* in EPQ so grades shouldn't be a problem. I've got several diplomas in piano performance and have taken part in various composition workshops and summer schools and go to a saturday music school.
I prefer older colleges as opposed to modern looking ones and of course with music, different colleges can be quite differing.
Looking forward to your reponses! Thanks in advance!

Hi,

Unless you have some very extraordinary circumstances I'd strongly advise against living at home during university as it will be a lot more difficult to integrate socially. A fresh start in a new place is one of the most valuable things about university life. Also, you can't possibly live close to both they're a 2-hour drive apart from one another. Even if your home is equidistant between them, the commute would not be sustainable and I'm sure neither university would allow it (definitely not Oxford).

My impression is that Oxford's course is more academically diverse (not that I'm very familiar with the course at Cambridge). Our course has evolved somewhat in the wake of the BLM protests last summer, in an effort to decentre it from Western art music and include other perspectives/styles. NB it is still very much a traditional academic music degree, but it's no longer just BEETHOVEN BEETHOVEN BEETHOVEN BACH MOZART BRAHMS etc. I see this as a massive positive because it means (for instance) that in first-year keyboard skills you can opt to take jazz lead sheets, whereas I had to choose between 3-part polyphony or string quartet. I'm not aware that Cambridge has made such changes.

Re college choices: aesthetic considerations are important, but I'd also take into account what kind of college music scene you might like and the academic interests of your college tutor (it can be helpful when yours and theirs somewhat align).

Re Cambridge, I can't really add to what @The_Lonely_Goatherd has said because I honestly have no idea...
Reply 7
Hi, me again. I'm attaching the updated course content/structure for Oxford Prelims 2022 (first-year exams) and FHS 2023 (finals exams). Hope you find it useful it's probably more helpful than me trying to summarise it.

I'm graduating next year so none of it is relevant to me.
Reply 8
Original post by OxMus
Hi, me again. I'm attaching the updated course content/structure for Oxford Prelims 2022 (first-year exams) and FHS 2023 (finals exams). Hope you find it useful it's probably more helpful than me trying to summarise it.

I'm graduating next year so none of it is relevant to me.

Thank you so much! I'm going to do some research on the admissions tests, seems like Cambridge has much harder admissions tests, especially at interviews than Oxford (which I think has none except performance). I was set on Cambridge, but now looking into it I feel it's much harder (am I wrong?) I also wanted to ask- is there a reason you picked Oxford over Cambridge/ do you know why some music students picked one over the other?
Reply 9
Original post by lukas078
Thank you so much! I'm going to do some research on the admissions tests, seems like Cambridge has much harder admissions tests, especially at interviews than Oxford (which I think has none except performance). I was set on Cambridge, but now looking into it I feel it's much harder (am I wrong?) I also wanted to ask- is there a reason you picked Oxford over Cambridge/ do you know why some music students picked one over the other?

Just wanted to add- things like Bach chorales don't pose a problem to me, but I'm assuming the counterpoint stuff is harder?
Regarding residence at Cambridge, they require undergrads to live within 3 miles of Great St Mary's Church, and/or in college accommodation (this exception I think allows Girton College to exist, which might be just outside of that?), but do have a caveat which allows you to live, with permission, outside of those restrictions.

I think you would need specific reasons to do so however e.g. caring responsibilities or illness that cannot be supported by living within those restrictions, and even then they may be inclined to advise that in view of those requirements they can't make reasonable adjustments for your studying there...

The specific regulations are here: https://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/univ/so/pdfs/2020/ordinance02.pdf on pages 9/10. I wouldn't expect there to be any changes for 2021/2022 entry for that part of the statutes so that is probably a generally accurate reference for that particular issue.
(edited 2 years ago)
Original post by lukas078
is there a reason you picked Oxford over Cambridge/ do you know why some music students picked one over the other?

I can only speak for myself but I knew I wouldn't get interviewed by Cambridge due to my dodgy UMS marks at AS Level :ninja: Plus I knew I'd not be able to hack their interview tests :colondollar:
Reply 12
Original post by lukas078
Thank you so much! I'm going to do some research on the admissions tests, seems like Cambridge has much harder admissions tests, especially at interviews than Oxford (which I think has none except performance). I was set on Cambridge, but now looking into it I feel it's much harder (am I wrong?) I also wanted to ask- is there a reason you picked Oxford over Cambridge/ do you know why some music students picked one over the other?


Indeed, Oxford doesn't have admissions tests for music at the interview stage, but that doesn't make it any less competitive it just means that interview discussions will carry greater weight. Trying to decide which university is "harder" won't really help you: focus instead on which set of admissions requirements you would perform best at, and which course you think would suit you best (i.e. which you'd enjoy more; which would suit your talents/expertise).

Personally, I chose Oxford because I was more interested in their course and I preferred the city.

Regarding your more specific question about counterpoint, I'm afraid I have no idea what Cambridge requires for that.
Reply 13
Original post by OxMus
Indeed, Oxford doesn't have admissions tests for music at the interview stage, but that doesn't make it any less competitive it just means that interview discussions will carry greater weight. Trying to decide which university is "harder" won't really help you: focus instead on which set of admissions requirements you would perform best at, and which course you think would suit you best (i.e. which you'd enjoy more; which would suit your talents/expertise).

Personally, I chose Oxford because I was more interested in their course and I preferred the city.

Regarding your more specific question about counterpoint, I'm afraid I have no idea what Cambridge requires for that.

Yeah, I've literally been running around in circles trying to choose between them and deciding between them- deciding which is the 'harder one' doesn't work because as you say they are equally as competitive. So I've been comparing the differences- grade requirements for Cambridge are A*AA, Oxford AAA, but this doesn't pose a problem for me. I've also looked at both course outlines and they look pretty similar to me, both allowing for the option of performance and composition each year (which is important to me).... Is there a specific part of the course you suggest I compare? I am mostly interested in composition, performance, (and academics but more recent 21st century avant garde music- though I don't mind the historical aspect sof the courses). I don't even know if I prefer a 'city feel' or a 'town feel' :frown:
Also, I have been looking at some other unis to study music, such as The 'joint course' for the Uni of Manchester and Royal Northern. I'm not sure about my likelihood to get there- I am predicted 3A*, and I think I'll probably get A*s in music, psychology and my EPQ, but not so sure about English lit, probably an A. I am also preparing for my LRSM for piano, but I imagine everyone else will be at a much higher level than me. This course REALLY applies to me, I feel Oxford/ Cambridge is too academic (what would you say??) and I feel like choosing a college is soooooo hard because although all do the same course, tutors, facilities, professors differ college to college. And I feel like I won't get as much support in an area I'm interested in, for e.g. experimental music/composition/conducting/performing (am I wrong?) + I've heard there can sometimes only be one other person studying the course. Will I enjoy it? I am highly academic .... I just don't know.. Any words of experience?
I have also decided I may apply to York for music- I have heard up to 40% of your course can be practical, and it has quite a unique environment that allows you to explore your interests in more depth, whilst also being academic.
That sets me up for 3 unis, but I have 5 choices of course, any other unis you would suggest based on my preferences?
Lastly (thank you for reading this far :smile:) I should have started my personal statement this week, had a weeks holiday, but I am just sooo unsure on how to start! I have written a list of everything I am involved in, all of it is either academic or music related, and is quite a list, but where do I start?

Thanks, any advice will be helpful :smile:
Reply 14
Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd
I can only speak for myself but I knew I wouldn't get interviewed by Cambridge due to my dodgy UMS marks at AS Level :ninja: Plus I knew I'd not be able to hack their interview tests :colondollar:

oh haha what was your experience at oxford like? What college did you go?
Original post by lukas078
Yeah, I've literally been running around in circles trying to choose between them and deciding between them- deciding which is the 'harder one' doesn't work because as you say they are equally as competitive. So I've been comparing the differences- grade requirements for Cambridge are A*AA, Oxford AAA, but this doesn't pose a problem for me. I've also looked at both course outlines and they look pretty similar to me, both allowing for the option of performance and composition each year (which is important to me).... Is there a specific part of the course you suggest I compare? I am mostly interested in composition, performance, (and academics but more recent 21st century avant garde music- though I don't mind the historical aspect sof the courses). I don't even know if I prefer a 'city feel' or a 'town feel' :frown:
Also, I have been looking at some other unis to study music, such as The 'joint course' for the Uni of Manchester and Royal Northern. I'm not sure about my likelihood to get there- I am predicted 3A*, and I think I'll probably get A*s in music, psychology and my EPQ, but not so sure about English lit, probably an A. I am also preparing for my LRSM for piano, but I imagine everyone else will be at a much higher level than me. This course REALLY applies to me, I feel Oxford/ Cambridge is too academic (what would you say??) and I feel like choosing a college is soooooo hard because although all do the same course, tutors, facilities, professors differ college to college. And I feel like I won't get as much support in an area I'm interested in, for e.g. experimental music/composition/conducting/performing (am I wrong?) + I've heard there can sometimes only be one other person studying the course. Will I enjoy it? I am highly academic .... I just don't know.. Any words of experience?
I have also decided I may apply to York for music- I have heard up to 40% of your course can be practical, and it has quite a unique environment that allows you to explore your interests in more depth, whilst also being academic.
That sets me up for 3 unis, but I have 5 choices of course, any other unis you would suggest based on my preferences?
Lastly (thank you for reading this far :smile:) I should have started my personal statement this week, had a weeks holiday, but I am just sooo unsure on how to start! I have written a list of everything I am involved in, all of it is either academic or music related, and is quite a list, but where do I start?

Thanks, any advice will be helpful :smile:

I know you weren't asking me but Imma chip in my tuppence anyway :colone:

I think it's worth applying to the Manchester/RNCM joint course. I didn't apply to that but LRSM seems pretty advanced for your age, so I'd say it's worth it since you like the look of the course. I didn't apply to York either but it is quite a unique course and would offer you more scope for practical stuff. You're right in thinking there's less of the practical stuff (at least in the course) at Oxford. Experimental music composition is a possibility, as Martyn Harry is there now, but you WILL spend the majority of your degree writings essays at Oxbridge as it's very VERY academic-heavy. So you need to figure out whether that's what you'd be happy doing or not.

Have you looked at Bristol, out of interest? When I was applying (years ago), I didn't apply there because I knew at that time there was a heavy focus on 21st century music and composition - that sounds up your alley though? It's a very well-regarded, strong dept.

Btw, remember you don't have to use up all five choices. I only applied to three unis initially, as well as three conservatoires just to see whether I'd get an offer from any music colleges or not :smile:

I'm a Personal Statement Reviewer on TSR, so I can advise a bit regarding that :biggrin: I suggest a five-point structure. I did write it all out on a TSR thread somewhere, so let me see if I can find it for you! :biggrin:

Original post by lukas078
oh haha what was your experience at oxford like? What college did you go?

I was at Worcester College (informally known as Woosta) :awesome: I had quite an interesting experience from Oxford, in that I went in thinking I was a performer and came out a non-performing ethnomusicologist :tongue: I had quite an up-and-down journey, due to health issues and my lack of knowledge of Western art music, but no regrets at all :biggrin:
WRITING YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT

So the important thing about a UCAS PS is that it's good to demonstrate an interest in things other than performing/composition if at all possible. This can be as simple as saying "I'm looking forward to studying X part of music history further at university" - doesn't have to be anything major! Just something to show that you have a genuine interest in other aspects of whatever courses you apply to.

Another important thing is to mention your instruments (making it clear what your principal instrument is. Voice counts as an instrument!) and what level you are on the main ones + piano/keyboard level. It will be ellsewhere in your UCAS form but not all tutors will read that part of the form thoroughly. So it's good to make it obvious via your PS :yep:

I generally suggest a five-point structure for UCAS personal statements. For music, I recommend something like the following:

1. Introduction. Since it can be hard to know where to start or what to write, I often advise music applicants (I'm a PS Reviewer here on TSR) to open their personal statement by talking about their earliest memories of their instrument and/or what attracted them to that instrument :yep: This could also be a good paragraph in which to clarify what your main instruments are.

2. Performance/composition-related achievements/experiences/interests. This can be on your main instrument(s). Make sure these are noteworthy things and don't include anything in this paragraph that is quite old (I recommend only talking about experiences/awards from Year 10 onwards. Apart from the introductory paragraph, since you're talking about childhood experiences, obviously ). Make sure this is a mixture of solo and ensemble performing :yes:


3. Other music-related interests (e.g. particular eras in music history, world music, film music, etc.) NB. If you have done some super-curricular reading, mention it in this paragraph and put this paragraph as no.2 (and performance/composition-stuff as paragraph 3). Mention what you are interested in/have read, and why. For reading, make pertinent comments - don't try and summarise the whole book, just the main argument. Then express an opinion on the reading.


4. Non-music-related achievements. This is where you might put work experience/part-time jobs/volunteering, D of E award, sports teams - anything that's not to do with music directly :yep: This paragraph should not be longer than either of your music-related paragraphs. Focus on transferable skills, rather than lengthy detail about the activity, etc.

5. Conclusion. This paragraph doesn't need to be that long but it MUST be good and have a proper ending sentence. You might conclude by saying what you're looking forward to studying, and remind the admissions tutors of why you would make a good music student at their uni! (Without writing it over-explicitly )
Reply 17
Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd
I know you weren't asking me but Imma chip in my tuppence anyway :colone:

I think it's worth applying to the Manchester/RNCM joint course. I didn't apply to that but LRSM seems pretty advanced for your age, so I'd say it's worth it since you like the look of the course. I didn't apply to York either but it is quite a unique course and would offer you more scope for practical stuff. You're right in thinking there's less of the practical stuff (at least in the course) at Oxford. Experimental music composition is a possibility, as Martyn Harry is there now, but you WILL spend the majority of your degree writings essays at Oxbridge as it's very VERY academic-heavy. So you need to figure out whether that's what you'd be happy doing or not.

Have you looked at Bristol, out of interest? When I was applying (years ago), I didn't apply there because I knew at that time there was a heavy focus on 21st century music and composition - that sounds up your alley though? It's a very well-regarded, strong dept.

Btw, remember you don't have to use up all five choices. I only applied to three unis initially, as well as three conservatoires just to see whether I'd get an offer from any music colleges or not :smile:

I'm a Personal Statement Reviewer on TSR, so I can advise a bit regarding that :biggrin: I suggest a five-point structure. I did write it all out on a TSR thread somewhere, so let me see if I can find it for you! :biggrin:


I was at Worcester College (informally known as Woosta) :awesome: I had quite an interesting experience from Oxford, in that I went in thinking I was a performer and came out a non-performing ethnomusicologist :tongue: I had quite an up-and-down journey, due to health issues and my lack of knowledge of Western art music, but no regrets at all :biggrin:

Oooh thanks for the advice! In terms of Martyn Harry would that mean I'd have to go to the specific college he teaches at? Also, I think I want to fill all 5 uni choices so I have a greater chance of getting into one. Also, do you think I am being too ambitious with my uni choices? Haha also one problem- I have to be 18 on the 31st of Dec to apply for the joint course but because I am always the youngest in the year, I'm still 16 and will turn 17 on the 31st of Aug (shall I email them, ask if I can still apply?)
Original post by lukas078
Oooh thanks for the advice! In terms of Martyn Harry would that mean I'd have to go to the specific college he teaches at? Also, I think I want to fill all 5 uni choices so I have a greater chance of getting into one. Also, do you think I am being too ambitious with my uni choices? Haha also one problem- I have to be 18 on the 31st of Dec to apply for the joint course but because I am always the youngest in the year, I'm still 16 and will turn 17 on the 31st of Aug (shall I email them, ask if I can still apply?)

You wouldn't have to, no, though it may help if he's particularly busy/in demand. Makes sense re: wanting to fill all 5 uni choices. I don't think you're being too ambitious at all: clearly you're very able both in A Levels and performance level :awesome:

Yes, I'd say email them and ask about whether there's any leeway :ahee:
Reply 19
Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd
You wouldn't have to, no, though it may help if he's particularly busy/in demand. Makes sense re: wanting to fill all 5 uni choices. I don't think you're being too ambitious at all: clearly you're very able both in A Levels and performance level :awesome:

Yes, I'd say email them and ask about whether there's any leeway :ahee:

yep will do, thanks :smile:

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